Here We Go, Ready or Not

I’ve been seeing an uptick in “Hillary warned us” memes like this one lately, and I have to say: they’re not the ace card some people seem to think they are. I agree Hillary Clinton had a clear-eyed assessment of how bad a Trump presidency would be. But here’s the thing: so did a lot of us.

The fact that these keep getting posted as if they’re evidence of some kind of preternatural perception, either on Clinton’s part or the part of the person tweeting the meme is only evidence – in light of the actual loss in 2016 – of how much they did NOT realize. 

Plenty of us knew full well how bad a Trump presidency would be. Hell, it was pretty hard to miss, just on the “grab ‘em by the pussy” comment alone. But we also understood that Hillary Clinton, at that particular moment in history, was an almost historically bad choice to defeat Trump. She was one of the very few non-incompetents who could’ve lost to a bellowing, spray-tanned fake-business-genius/protofacist clown.

And then she did exactly that.

Since then, these same “Hillary was right” Democrats have been engaged in a three-plus year exercise in evasion and scapegoating anyone they can find, from fringe 3rd party candidates to Russia, to “bros” to explain Clinton’s loss. The only place they haven’t directed their wrath and their gaze is at their own assumptions and the weaknesses of their candidate. All the scapegoating has been done to avoid the real labor of having to critically examine what went wrong both in the outcome of the election and in their own assumptions/actions before the election.

That’s what worries me about the distressing frequency of these memes: they suggest nothing – or at least not enough – has been learned since 2016. Of course the landscape is different today than it was in 2016. Though it does rhyme, history never truly repeats itself, yet Democrats seem always prepared to fight the LAST war, which explains a lot about why they continue to lose the current one. Head-in-sand pronouncements like “Hillary really won” or “Hillary was right” suggest the history of not learning from the last defeat may be happening again – or maybe it never stopped. “We don’t need to change or reflect, we just need to do the same things, harder.” There’s a definition for that.

The elevation of Joe Biden this time around suggests the same thing. Biden is the one candidate out of that field that represents as close to “get back to ‘normal’” or “don’t rock the boat” as was available. A septuagenarian conventional Democrat who’s been in the Senate for decades and was the last popular President’s VP screams “I want things to be the way they used to be.” Well, sorry: that’s the one thing you can’t have. Whether history repeats or rhymes, one thing it surely never does is stand still or go backwards. Something is brewing in the public consciousness today that wasn’t in 2016…but Democrats seem almost completely unable to harness – or possibly even grasp the import and the direction – of it. They sense its power, and they know that no other political party (since we only have two, functionally) is positioned to take advantage of or even help lead what may be coming out of the #BlackLivesMatter awakening. But as of this writing, that movement and expansion of consciousness and solidarity appears to be happening if not in spite of, at least outside of, the Democratic Party proper.

It may be that the visceral loathing of Trump is enough this fall to ensure a D victory at the top, just as the utter exhaustion with Bush helped propel Obama to victory. But I wouldn’t be too sure about it. Trump look eminently beatable from the perspective of today — and he should be, given all his failures, especially on containing coronavirus. But Dems all laughed their way through his candidacy last time right up until the very end, and if you throw in the inevitable Russian fuckery and the baked-in advantage of rural states and the electoral college, as well as GOP suppression efforts, it’s not impossible it could happen again. The best way to prevent that now that the die is cast is for Joe Biden to rise above his decades of centrist “comity” with a GOP that no longer exists and realize the moment he’s in, and for the rest of us to do what we can to get Trump out of office. But if we manage it, then the real job will be for Biden not to conduct a four-year exercise in trying to make things like they used to be because Dems who thought Hillary did nothing wrong just want to go back to brunch. 

Otherwise the Biden era will be most remembered for resembling the first part of the Obama era chiefly in the misreading of the mood of the electorate and the missed opportunities. And we’ll be looking at a resurgent Tom Cotton campaign in 2024, and the rhyming will continue.